Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 10/10/13

Position Analysis

The CCO’s off-season series of articles to summarize and project how the Cubs’ minor league system stacks up on a position by position basis continues today. Second base was first on the list followed by third base, shortstop and first base. Today, the CCO focuses on a position that may be the weakest in the entire organization: Catcher.


The idea when the Cubs brought in J.C. Boscan last off-season was that not only was he very familiar with pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman, but he could act as a mentor for Steve Clevenger and some of the other catchers in the system. That idea went out the window very quickly as Clevenger was needed by the parent club due to injuries out of Spring Training, plus both Vizcaino and Chapman were also injured. Thrust into the starting role for Triple-A Iowa, Boscan performed, well, like J.C. Boscan. He hit .232/.297/.270/.567 with nine doubles and 18 RBI, right around his 17-year career averages. Boscan was sparkling behind the plate, fielding .993 but he threw out only 15 percent of all base runners. The front office would probably like the soon-to-be 34-year old (December 26) back for 2014, but whether it is as a player, coach, roving instructor, or possibly a manager, remains to be seen.

You have to admire the persistence shown by Luis Flores. Selected in the seventh round of the 2008 draft, Flores never showed very much offensively until 2011 when he hit .275/.372/.578/.950 with eight doubles, one triple, seven home runs and 20 RBI in 40 games for Double-A Tennessee. Unfortunately for him, Flores was hit with a 50-game suspension for using PED’s. Flores attempted a comeback in 2012 with the Smokies. Flores played in 26 games and hit .167/.322/.250 with three doubles and one home run before retiring. Lured back by the Cubs this past spring, Flores began the year as a back-up to J.C. Boscan and showed improvement once he was able to shake off the rust. Flores hit .204/.295/.325/.620 with eight doubles, five homers and 17 RBI in 61 games in 2013, but hit .238 in July and .278 in August. Flores has always been good defensively, with a career .989 fielding average and a 34 percent caught stealing rate. But at 27 years old, his days as a prospect are behind him.

The front office thought enough about Rafael Lopez to invite him to Spring Training last February as a non-roster player. Lopez came to the Cubs as a 16th round selection in 2011 and is known as a good defensive player. Lopez put together a surprising offense season with Boise in 2011 as he hit .316/.381/.449/.830 with eight doubles, six home runs and 37 RBI in 54 games. It was expected that Lopez would get a brief look at Low-A Peoria in 2012 and then move up quickly to High-A Daytona, but a concussion derailed that plan as Lopez saw action in only 70 games over three levels in 2012 while batting a combined .279/.355/.395/.750 with 19 doubles, two homers and 28 RBI. After Spring Training, Lopez was eased into the starting role at Double-A Tennessee and shared time with veteran Jair Fernandez. Lopez then took over as the full-time starter in mid-May and hit .247/.350/.392/.742 with 22 doubles, 43 RBI and a career-high eight home runs. A usually reliable receiver, Lopez had his worst season defensively in 2013, committing 11 errors and fielding .984. Lopez did nail 27 percent of all base stealers. The 26- year old left-handed hitter has the look of a good back-up catcher, but still needs Triple-A experience.

Double-A is the first level that you will see some of the system catchers, as the Cubs have two good ones in Chad Noble and Taylor Davis. Unlike other positions, system catchers will spend a lot of time moving up and down the minor league chain, plugging holes created by the physically demanding position. A 37th round pick in 2010 out of Northwestern, Noble is considered the better defender of the two with a career .992 fielding average and a 29 percent caught stealing rate. The 26-year old hit a combined .223/.275/.289/.5464 with nine doubles, one triple, one home run and 14 RBI over three levels in 2013. Davis has slightly better offense numbers, with a career .248/.326/.364/.690 line that includes 17 doubles, five triples, five home runs and 57 RBI in three seasons after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011. The 23- year old is decent defensively, fielding at a .983 average and throwing out 29 percent of all base runners.

Management may feel that they have a potential two-way catcher in 2012 ninth round pick Chadd Krist. Splitting time between Boise and Peoria last season, Krist batted a combined .274/.335/.433/.767 with 19 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 23 RBI in 56 games after he signed. It was somewhat surprising that Krist returned to Single-A and Kane County to start the 2013 season, but he served as a back-up to Willson Contreras before being promoted to Daytona. Once with the D-Cubs, the 23-year old played 65 games and was .255/.361/.373/.734 with 14 doubles, five home runs, 36 RBI, and four stolen bases. Although Krist doesn’t seem to have a lot of power, he does seem to get a lot of doubles. In 133 career games, Krist has hit 35 two baggers. Krist has some above average numbers defensively, fielding .987 and erasing 25 percent on the basepaths in his career. Backing up Krist at Daytona is another system catcher, Yaniel Cabezas. Signed out of Cuba in 2011, Cabezas has battled injuries throughout his time in the organization, but is considered one of the best pitch-and-catch receivers in the system. The 24-year old sports a lifetime .996 fielding average and Cabezas has a reputation for handling pitchers and calling games. Many observers feel it was no accident that Cabezas was catcher when the unpredictable Matt Loosen threw his no-hitter. Cabezas had his best year at the plate in 2013 and went a combined .260/.317/.313/.630 with five doubles, one triples and 15 RBI in 43 games for Kane County and Daytona.

Who moves forward to the High-A level is somewhat of a mystery as the organization is looking at Gioskar Amaya (profiled in the second base section), Ben Carhart (profiled in the third base section), and Giuseppe Papaccio (profiled in the shortstop section) at catcher in the Fall Instructional League. The Cubs also signed Danny Canela out of the Frontier League. Canela partied ways with North Carolina State in January, signed with River City and won the Frontier League rookie of the year award after posting a .360/.455/.582/1.037 line. The right-handed throwing, lefty batting catcher hit 14 doubles, 12 home runs, walked 41 times with 50 strikeouts in 67 games, and turns 23 on December 14.

Kane County had two catchers that might have some promise in Willson Contreras and Carlos Escobar. After signing as a free agent in 2009, the Cubs were encouraged with Contreras’ return to catcher last season following his stint as a third baseman in 2010 and 2011. The 21-year old returned to Boise in 2012 and hit .273/.316/.357/.673 with 10 doubles, one triple, three home runs and 38 RBI while also seeing time in left and right fields, and both third and first base. It was a mixed bag for Contreras offensively for his first full season of pro ball. Contreras began the year a promotion to Kane County. Contreras’ average dropped but he should progress with an improved OBP and slugging percentage. Contreras slugged a career-high 11 home runs and 11 doubles while driving in 46 runs. Contreras hit .248/.329/.423/.742. Contreras’ defense also sent mixed messages with a .968 fielding average but he caught 30 percent of all would be base stealers.

Drafted for his defense in the 15th round in 2012, Carlos Escobar showed some improvement offensively. Coming off of a foot injury, Escobar played 49 games and was pretty much splitting time evenly with Contreras by season’s end, Escobar hit .237/.293/.387/.680 with 12 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 23 RBI. Twenty-three years old at the end of the year, Escobar has an 18 percent caught stealing percentage and a .987 fielding average.

There are a lot of catching options coming from the Short-Season A Boise team. The most promising may be 2013 16th round pick Cael Brockmeyer. The 21-year old from Cal-State Bakersfield played in 33 games for the Hawks and batted .271/.355/.336/.692 with five doubles, one triple, 14 RBI and caught 34 percent of all base runners while fielding .994. However, Brockmeyer lost some time with a concussion and is getting some reps in the Fall Instructional League. Seeing the bulk of the playing time behind the plate for Boise was 23-year old Lance Rymel. Drafted in the 28th round in 2012, Rymel has the makings of a good system catcher as he hit .253/.337/.315/.652 with seven doubles, one home run and 16 RBI while handing a young and talented pitching staff. Rymel’s best quality is his leadership and he fielded .990 and with a 20 percent caught stealing rate. Twenty-year old Justin Marra had a rough beginning to his 2013 season, but rallied late and ended up hitting .224/.313/.482/.795 with four doubles. Marra tied for eighth in the league with six homers and drove in 16 runs in 25 games. While Marra sported a 1.000 fielding average, he had a lot of trouble handing breaking balls but threw out 28 percent of base runners. After playing second and third for the Hawks, Jordan Hankins will be moving to catcher in the Fall Instructional League. The 21-year old from Austin Peay University was drafted in the 11th round in 2013, and batted .234/.291/.290/.581 with five doubles, one home run and eight RBI after being rush up to play third base for the Hawks. Neftali Rosario has been a slow developing prospect after being selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, but is only 20 years old. Playing only nine games all season, Rosario batted .182/217/.182 but caught 50 percent of base stealers (two out of four attempts). While listed as a catcher Rony Rodriguez saw no action behind the plate after signing out of the Can-Am League. The 23-year old was mainly a designated hitter, but saw some action in left and right field and hit .270/.341/.405/.747 with 11 double, three home runs and 23 RBI in 42 games. Like Rymel and first baseman Jacob Rogers, Rodriguez provided maturity and leadership.

The Arizona Rookie League also had a bevy of catching prospects, with 20-year old switch-hitter Wilfredo Petit leading the way. The organization absolutely loves how Petit works behind the plate, as he fielded .992 and threw out 44 percent of would-be thieves in 29 starts. Petit’s problem has always been his offense, but he hit a career high .209/.253/.233/.485 with 14 RBI this past season. Another player converting to catcher in the Fall Instructional League will be Mark Malave. Actually, the 18-year old will be re-converting, as he was originally signed as a catcher but has played mainly third base since joining the club. Malave was one of the few prospects that batted well for the AZL Cubs this past season as he hit .270/.381/.339/.720 with six doubles, one triple and 15 RBI. Another switch-hitter, Malave showed no special aptitude at either third, shortstop, second or first base, so what to expect from him at catcher is unclear. One of the more athletic players at the position in the organization is 20-year old Erick Castillo. Yet another switch-hitter, Castillo is an emerging offensive talent as he hit .265/.280/.367/.647 with two doubles, one home run and five RBI in 18 games for the AZL Cubs. While Castillo has fielded .975, he has erased 41 percent of would-be base stealers in his career. Castillo also has some versatility as he has played first base and outfield in the Venezuelan Winter League last year. Signed as a 16-year old out of Italy in 2010, Alberto Mineo has yet to advance past the rookie league. Now 19 years old, the lefty has turned some experience he gained in the World Baseball Classic into some progress. Mineo batted .222/.300/.278/.578 with three doubles and 11 RBI in 16 games. Always strong defensively, Mineo had a 27 percent caught stealing rate and fielded .993. A surprise signing by the Cubs from the 2013 draft was 24th rounder Tyler Alamo. It was expected that Alamo would accept college offers after being drafted that low, but the 18- year old inked a deal and saw action in 11 games this season, but only three at catcher. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder performed as expected for someone right out of high school and hit .111/.167/.111 with four RBI while fielding .895. Also signing was 21-year old, 19th round pick Will Remillard. Remillard was not able to participate in the rookie league due to a back injury, but is now a part of the Fall Instructional League.

The Cubs opted to keep some slightly over-aged prospects at catcher in the Dominican Summer League in order for them to work with their young pitchers. As a result, the futures of Antonio Valerio and Carlos Ramirez are uncertain. The 22-year old Valerio is a stout defender, fielding .993 and thwarting 57 percent of stealing attempts in 45 games. Valerio hit .258/.317/.328/.645 with nine doubles, one triple, one home run and 23 RBI. Twenty-one year old Ramirez was a little more challenged offensively, hitting .226/.319./.226/.545 and six RBI while being strong defensively, with a 25 percent caught stealing and a .985 fielding average.

The Venezuelan Summer League has three promising teenage catchers in Jhonny Pereda, Leonardo Gonzalez, and Roberto Vahlis. The primary catcher for a pitching staff that was second in the league in strikeouts was the 17-year old Pereda. He was strong behind the plate and tossed out 40 percent of all base stealers while fielding .983 in 45 games. Pereda ended up with a .213/.295/.293/.587 line that included nine doubles, two homers and 21 RBI. Eighteen-year old Gonzalez is also a good defender, fielding .991 and posting a 28 percent caught stealing rate, but like Pereda, he needs work at the plate. Gonzalez batted .209/.294/.396/.690 that included eight doubles, three homers and 11 RBI in 18 games. The 19-year old Vahlis is a little more offensively advanced than Pereda and Gonzalez. Vahlis also hit three home runs while driving in 14 and batting .241/.320/.379/.699 in 33 games. Vahlis fielded only .914 and threw out 24 percent of base stealers, and also saw some time in the outfield.

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Quote of the Day

"You can’t sit on a lead and kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game." - Earl Weaver